What Does Your Athlete Do When Times Get Tough?

In Balance, Football
By Jon Coles | May 4, 2020

What Does Your Athlete Do When Times Get Tough?

Right now, New Orleans’ Saints’ Jason Vander Laan is relying heavily on his faith.

As the entire world faces the COVID-19 pandemic, instead of sitting around and just waiting for football to return, Vander Laan has been helping his community by serving those affected by the Coronavirus in New Orleans. Just as he and his family did while he was growing up, actively practicing their faith by serving people in need. 

Vander Laan was taught the importance of faith at an early age.  As a kid, he played three sports, but despite his busy schedule, Jason was never allowed to play or practice in games on Sundays. His mom Cindy set the priorities early – “Church attendance, Bible studies, and Christian community need to be the focus.  Football can’t be your God.”  

Because sports were always second and God first, Jason was able to handle adversity when it came his way on the field. After a very successful high school football career, Jason received only one scholarship offer. But he didn’t let it stop him, he knew God had a plan. Jason went to Ferris State University, a D2 school in Michigan, and played quarterback for four years. He was the type of student athlete that programs and entire athletic departments are built upon. As his head coach Tony Annese said, “When your best player is your hardest worker and also a model citizen, good things happen.”  Jason graduated as a two-time Harlon Hill recipient (equivalent to DI Heisman Trophy), the NCAA’s leading rushing quarterback at any level, and led his team to a 26-2 record his last 28 games all while maintaining a 3.89 GPA in Applied Mathematics. 

Jason needed to lean on his faith again when he was cut by the New York Jets as a rookie and was out of work and his dream of playing in the NFL seemingly out of reach. But Jason didn’t give up. His dad for one, wasn’t surprised, saying, “Work ethic, drive, integrity, sportsmanship, I will give the credit for that to God. But my wife and I raised him to know that being lazy was not an option.”  “Without a doubt, he’s one of the hardest working players I’ve ever coached,” his college coach, Tony Annese, shared.  

And that hard work payed off as Jason would have been heading into his 6th season overall and second season as a tight end for the New Orleans Saints in the fall. But now, with the NFL season hanging in the balance, and millions of lives affected by COVID19, he again finds peace and draw inspiration from his faith, referring often to Philippians 4:6-7; “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”


Jon Coles, PhD – Assistant Professor, Sport ManagementGrand Valley State University

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